Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday issued a veiled warning that the Kremlin won’t recognize Ukraine’s May 25 presidential election unless the Kiev government first submits to power-sharing talks with pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Lavrov also insisted that Ukraine’s interim government in Kiev recall its armed forces fighting to retake the dozen towns and cities seized by the separatists who Ukrainian and Western leaders contend are armed and instigated by Moscow.
During a speech and news conference in Vienna, Lavrov underscored the Kremlin’s insistence that Ukraine’s embattled leaders agree to constitutional reform that would shift power from central authorities to the regions. Kiev’s European-allied government has expressed support for reconfiguring the governing structure of the country but not at the barrel of a gun they see as trained on them by proxies of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has spoken in favor of constitutional reforms that would cede authority for economic and foreign policies to regional leaders. The issue of coupling a constitutional referendum with the presidential election in less than three weeks was debated by Ukrainian lawmakers Tuesday but rejected. Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroisman said that the redrafting of Ukraine’s governing structure won’t be ready for a public vote until late fall at the earliest.
Lavrov, clearly advancing Putin’s campaign for gaining influence in the Russian-speaking eastern regions once they can decide their own affairs, said it would be “more logical and fair” for Kiev authorities to postpone the presidential election until a new constitution can be written and endorsed by voters.